All eyes will be on the Stade de France on Saturday as the 2022 Six Nations comes to a conclusion when leaders France take on England.

While the visitors can finish no higher than third place, Eddie Jones' men will revel in being the ultimate party poopers in Paris.

Victory for France in 'Le Crunch' will seal a first Grand Slam since 2010, though Les Blues could still finish top and land a first title since then should Ireland fail to beat Scotland.

Saturday's other fixture sees Wales take on pointless Italy in Cardiff and, while there may be little riding on that game, it will be a milestone occasion for a couple of players.

Ahead of the final round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


FRANCE V ENGLAND

FORM

The omens are good for France as two of their previous three Six Nations Grand Slams have been completed with victory over England in the final round, in 2004 and again six years later, while just one of the past nine games between these sides in the competition has been won by the visitors – England prevailing 31-21 in 2016.

Fabien Galthie's charges have lost just one of their past eight home games in the competition, with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Scotland last year as they chased a big winning margin to pip Wales to the title.

England are aiming to avoid losing three matches in a single edition of the Six Nations for the third time in seven years playing under Eddie Jones, having also done so in 2018 and 2021, and for a fifth time overall. 


ONES TO WATCH

Damian Penaud, who has a joint-high three tries in this year's tournament, is back in France's starting XV after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Yoram Moefana. France have scored seven tries from counter-attacks this year, which is at least three more than any other team, so pacey Penaud could cause some damage this weekend.

England will need to work incredibly hard if they are to stop arguably the world's top side right now and hope that their key players turn up. In Marcus Smith they boast a player who leads the way for points in 2022 with 63, 19 more than next-best Melvyn Jaminet.

 

IRELAND V SCOTLAND

FORM

Ireland must beat Scotland earlier on Saturday if they are to remain in title contention and they have a great recent record in this fixture, winning seven of their last eight Six Nations meetings.

That record is even better on home soil, meanwhile, having been victorious in 10 of the last 11 encounters in the competition, including each of the last five in a row. Scotland's only win in that run came at Croke Park in 2010.

Fourth-placed Scotland have won five of their last six away games in the tournament, however, which is as many as they had managed in their previous 43.


ONES TO WATCH

Ireland were made to work hard for their victory against an England side that played almost the entire 80 minutes with 14 men last week, but they did ultimately get the job done. Jamison Gibson-Park led the way for passes in that match with 59 – more than double any opposition player – and he has a joint-high three assists in this edition.

Finn Russell is level with Gibson-Park on three assists, but he has been surprisingly omitted from Scotland's squad for the match at the Aviva Stadium due to his growing indiscipline and poor form. Ali Price is next for Scotland on the assists list with two, and there will now be more focus on him on what is his 51st cap.



WALES V ITALY

FORM

Wales are aiming to climb two places and finish third and will be confident of fulfilling their half of the bargain by claiming a bonus-point win against bottom side Italy. The Dragons have won each of their last 14 in this fixture, last tasting defeat in 2007.

After losing at home to France in their most recent home match, Wales are aiming to avoid successive losses at the Principality Stadium in the competition for the first time in 15 years, when losing their final such game in 2006 and first in 2007.

Italy will claim the Wooden Spoon once again having lost all five games this year, stretching their record losing run in the tournament to 36 matches. The Azzurri's most recent win away from home came against Scotland in 2015.

ONES TO WATCH

This will be a special occasion for Dan Biggar, who is in line for his 100th cap, and Alun Wyn Jones, who returns for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand in October for his 150th appearance. That makes the Wales skipper the first player to win 150 or more caps for a single nation in history.

Ange Capuozzo has been handed a first Test start after making a big impression in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Italy. The Grenoble full-back has scored two tries in this year's Six Nations, accounting for half of Italy's total, with both of those coming in a 34-minute appearance against Scotland in round four.

Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones are in line to claim their 100th and 150th Wales caps when Wayne Pivac's side host Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Wales sit fifth in the table after falling to a third defeat in four outings following a 13-9 loss to France last Friday, with their only win coming against Scotland on February 12.

However, Pivac's team will be boosted by the return of Jones, who comes back into the starting side for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against New Zealand at the end of October.

Biggar retains the captaincy despite 36-year-old Jones returning, with the former set to become the seventh Welshman to win 100 caps for his country.

Coach Pivac, who has made seven changes to his team that lost against table-toppers France, believes the pair deserve to share their milestone appearances together.

"We've said with other players reaching 100 appearances what an achievement that is and for Dan I know he's been looking forward to this moment for a long time," Pivac told reporters on Tuesday.

"For him to achieve it with Al, who is also getting the milestone of 150 caps – which no other player has ever done – I think it's fitting for those two to share the day.

"They've played a lot of rugby together and have a healthy respect for each other. They've given so much for the game in Wales."

Gareth Davies is in line for his first start in this year's Six Nations, with Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit and Willis Halaholo all recalled in the backline as well.

Meanwhile, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis and last year's Lions captain Jones are the forwards who come in, with Ryan Elias, Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Tomas Francis,  Liam Williams, Tomos Williams and Will Rowlands dropping out of the starting side.

On the changes, Pivac added: "We've made a few changes this week. With one game to go there are some players we need to see out there and put them in the matchday 23.

"We've certainly selected a side which we think can get the job done. Clearly that's what we're here for. There's an opportunity to move up that table, so we think this is an exciting team and one we're looking forward to seeing out there.

"Italy are a side that's improving, they've had some bad luck here and there and with a new coach transitioning we know it takes a bit of time.

"But we know they've got some very good rugby players and as you saw against Scotland they troubled them in that second half and for long periods of the first. So we're going to have to be on our game and we're very much looking forward to playing at home again this weekend.

"We had a good result against Scotland, gave the fans something to cheer about and came very close against an in-form France. Obviously disappointed we couldn't get across the line for our fans there and we hope we can do that this weekend and finish on a high."

Wales team: Johnny McNicholl, Louis Rees-Zammit, Owen Watkin, Uilisi Halaholo, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Wyn Jones, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Ross Moriarty, Kieran Hardy, Callum Sheedy, Nick Tompkins.

Fabien Galthie says France are in the "dream scenario" as they stand on the brink of a Grand Slam but knows the Six Nations leaders face a massive test against England.

Anthony Jelonch scored the only try of an almighty battle with Wales at the Principality Stadium, where Les Bleus won 13-9 on Friday to maintain their 100 per cent record.

France defended magnificently to keep the holders at bay in Cardiff and have a first title since 2010 in their sights.

England will arrive at Stade de France determined to spoil the party and can also be crowned champions with a win in the French capital if they beat Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

France head coach Galthie sees his side as a work in progress and is prepared for a tense evening in Paris.

"The dream scenario is to win the games, Four wins after four rounds, that was our ambition. We have learned from the past, this is still a team in progress," said Galthie.

"We have managed to balance things in this competition in terms of our efforts. Four wins, that is what you dream of. Now we will turn our attention to the final match against England.

“It’s England, the finalists from the last World Cup, a huge rugby nation. We can't make a mistake about our opponent.

"We have to start the preparation in a pleasant way, while enjoying this [win over Wales] and this weekend. We will flip on Monday and prepare with our method and our conviction. There will be a match to play, as always."

It was not pretty as France dug in to defeat Wales and Galthie was delighted with the way they went about their business.

He added: "The key is to win, differently, agreed, but it's good to win. The winning streak is the hardest thing to do, especially here against a very good tactical side.

"We had a week with the players suffering from the flu and we were hit by Covid. Despite a number of players missing time, the team came and got the win and that is important.

"We won five turnovers at the breakdown, while being disciplined and conceding just eight penalties. The know-how of our defensive line, with big tackles, good entries into the rucks and playing the ball, that's a box that is ticked by the players collectively and individually."

Dan Biggar said Wales paid a high price for falling short at key moments after failing to halt mighty France in Cardiff.

A Six Nations Grand Slam is now within touching distance for Les Bleus after they overcame last year's champions 13-9 at the Principality Stadium, making it four wins from four.

Wales fought hard but rarely threatened a try, Jonathan Davies dropping the ball on the one occasion they looked like perhaps going over.

There was plenty to admire about the Welsh display, but Anthony Jelonch's early try was ultimately the difference between the sides.

In terms of metres carried, Wales edged France 353 to 284, and they were 156-96 ahead on the passes count, but France's defence was outstanding, and the hosts made too many errors.

Home captain Biggar told BBC One the outcome was "ultimately very, very disappointing".

He added: "This week I thought we were the better team for large periods of the game, and one or two big moments is what big Test matches hinge on, and we didn't quite nail those moments, and we paid the price.

"I'm so proud of the lads in terms of how well they stuck to it against probably the form team in world rugby at the minute, so we're really, really pleased with the effort.

"That's a bit more like us in terms of the attitude and probably something we didn't quite show in the first half against England and Ireland."

Wales have now lost three of their four games and wrap up their campaign against Italy next week, when they should get a second win of their campaign.

Biggar said the positivity behind his team's display made him "really, really pleased".

"But ultimately when you play against big teams and good teams in tight Test matches, one or two moments decide it," he said, "and we didn't quite come on the right side of them."

France lock Paul Willemse said the 13-9 win at Wales' Principality Stadium was the hard-fought slog that Les Bleus always expected.

The contest featured only three points in the second half, and a scoreless last half-hour after Melvin Jaminet's penalty in the 46th minute gave France their eventual winning margin.

The win moved France further clear atop the Six Nations standings, sporting a near two-to-one points ratio after scoring 116 and conceding 60 in the first four fixtures.

They have a 100 per cent record through four games, with a possible Grand Slam looming ahead of England's visit to the Stade de France next week.

Speaking to BBC One post-match, Willemse said: "We prepared during the week knowing this was going to be one of the toughest games in the season.

"We're really happy with the result even though it wasn't a clean match, but it's expected against a team like Wales.

"[We have to work on] the basic stuff. Discipline, being more secure getting out of our half, because they kept us in there for a long time.

"Definitely a lot of things to work on next week, and for sure we'll be doing that."

 ??? ?'??? ???? !
Les Bleus s'imposent ce soir à Cardiff et remportent une 4e victoire dans ce #SixNations !

RENDEZ-VOUS ?????? ???????? au @StadeFrance ! #GALFRA #XVdeFrance #NeFaisonsXV pic.twitter.com/KpUlizFNsE

— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) March 11, 2022

While he acknowledged some of his side's shortcomings, the big Frenchman was full of praise for their character and chemistry.

"You see it on the field, you see it during the week's training, you see it after the games," Willemse said.

"This is a really amazing and incredible team to be a part of, and I'm really grateful to be a part of it because I think we can do big things."

France last completed a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010, also the year of their last title in the competition.

The pre-tournament favourites are living up to their billing so far this year, and team manager Raphael Ibanez highlighted the rugged nature of the Wales clash, pinning the win on his side’s defensive efforts.

"I think it was a very tense game – it was a fierce battle, with many mistakes of course," Ibanez told BBC One.

"We were under pressure, especially in the second half. Wales had a great kicking game, but winning that game, it's a great opportunity for next week.

"Sometimes at the international stage you can't play fantastic rugby every weekend, you just have to be smart in the right areas, making sure your set-piece is working well and your discipline as well.

"I think our defence was outstanding, and that's what won us the game."

France will go for Grand Slam glory next week after resisting a determined effort from Wales to snatch a huge 13-9 win in Cardiff.

Coach Fabien Galthie's team were pushed hard by last season's Six Nations champions, and it was their tenacity more than their flowing rugby that secured the French victory.

The only try of the contest came from Anthony Jelonch in the first half, with Wales unable to breach their opponents' line.

It means France will welcome England to the Stade de France in eight days' time for 'Le Crunch', with a first Grand Slam since 2010 in their sights.

France snatched a third-minute lead through Melvyn Jaminet's penalty after an infringement by Josh Navidi, but Wales were swiftly back on terms when captain Dan Biggar drilled a confident reply.

Jelonch's second international try arrived in the ninth minute as France's snappy running rugby brought early reward, with the flanker the man to dash in on the left wing.

Jaminet booted the extras, and Wales, who lost Tomos Williams to an early injury, struggled to contain the blue shirts for a spell, until a Biggar penalty closed the gap.

With 10 wins in their last 11 Six Nations games at the Principality Stadium, Wales were not giving this up early and began to impose pressure on the French try-line.

The hosts lost Gareth Thomas to a head blow and were twice penalised after getting close to the French posts.

But Wales' luck changed with the award of a penalty in front, which Biggar drove through the uprights to snip France's lead to one point at the break.

Jaminet nudged France into a four-point lead once more with another penalty, but the game remained in the balance, the vaunted visitors struggling to put it away.

Jonathan Davies fumbled as Wales looked to go for the line down the left, but still the home side kept pressing.

Jaminet missed a late chance to boost France's lead when his long-range kick drifted wide, but Wales could not take advantage of that let-off.

France are rolling towards a possible Grand Slam as they arrive in Cardiff for game four in their Six Nations mission, but Fabien Galthie's team must not switch off now.

The championship may yet see a France versus England title decider at the Stade de France next weekend, but whether 'Le Crunch' proves crucial will hinge on results this time around.

A mighty Welsh effort in Cardiff could knock the French juggernaut off course, while Ireland will believe they can achieve a result at Twickenham.

Scotland and Italy, meanwhile, tussle in Rome. That was once typically a Wooden Spoon decider; this time, the Scots are heavy favourites.

Ahead of the fourth round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

WALES V FRANCE

FORM

Wales have lost each of their last two meetings with France in the Six Nations, after winning seven of their previous eight clashes in the championship. France's 27-23 win at the Principality Stadium two years ago was their first success in Cardiff in the competition since 2010, and France have not won back-to-back away games against Wales since reeling off four in a row from 2000 to 2006.

Wayne Pivac's Wales won at home against Scotland last month but have lost on the road to Ireland and England. The Welsh have pulled off 10 wins from their last 11 matches in Cardiff in the Six Nations, with France the only side to beat them during that sequence.

This France team are living up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites and have won their last six Test matches, their best run since also winning six on the bounce in 2006. They have not won more consecutive internationals since a run of eight in 2004, which included a victory in Cardiff.

ONES TO WATCH

Among players to hit 20 or more attacking rucks in this season's Six Nations, Wales' Ross Moriarty has the best ruck effectiveness rate, cleaning out the opposition or securing possession at 96 per cent of the attacking rucks he has hit (27 of 28). Moriarty is not a starter this week, as Pivac rings the changes, but will surely have a role to play off the bench.

France's Damian Penaud would have been a strong contender here, having beaten 10 defenders in this year's Six Nations, the joint most of any player alongside Scotland's Darcy Graham, with Penaud also achieving a championship-best tackle evasion rate of 77 per cent. Penaud is ruled out by a COVID-19 positive test, so can his fellow wings Yoram Moefana and Gabin Villiere prove as elusive?

 

ITALY V SCOTLAND

FORM

There was a time when Scotland dreaded facing Italy, but those days appear long gone. The Scots have won their last six matches against the Azzurri in the Six Nations, last losing at Murrayfield in 2015. Prior to this dominant era, Scotland had won nine and Italy had won seven of their first 16 clashes in the championship. The Scots have won their last four away games against Italy.

Italy's losing run in the competition has now reached a dismal 35 games, and that Murrayfield victory seven years ago was their last success. Kieran Crowley's team have failed to score a try in their last two Six Nations games, the first time this has happened for Italy since they went on a run of three games without a try in the 2009 championship.

Ali Price is set to win his 50th cap for Scotland. The Glasgow Warriors scrum-half has scored just one try in his seven appearances against Italy, although he has four try assists across his last two Tests against the Azzurri.

ONES TO WATCH

Michele Lamaro has made 59 tackles in this year's Six Nations, at least 13 more than any other player. That is the upside. The downside is that he has also missed the most tackles of any player (13); however, only one of those missed tackles led to a break, with the other 12 seeing the opposition player tackled by a team-mate.

By contrast, Scotland's Hamish Watson has made 31 tackles without missing one so far in this year's competition. Only Ireland's Caelan Doris has made more without missing (36/36). Watson has now made 180 tackles in the championship since his last miss, which came back in 2019 against England.

 

ENGLAND V IRELAND

FORM

England have tended to like this fixture of late, having won four of their last five home games against Ireland in the Six Nations. A 24-15 defeat in 2018 was the exception in this run which started in 2012. England have also won 22 of their last 25 home matches – taking all opponents into account – in the Six Nations (D1, L2).

Yet Ireland are the only side that England have a losing record against in the Six Nations era, winning just 45 per cent of their meetings in the championship (W10, L12).

Whoever leads at half-time seems nailed on for the win. None of the previous 22 Six Nations matches between England and Ireland have seen an interval deficit overturned to bring about a victory for the trailing team.

ONES TO WATCH

England's Marcus Smith is the leading points scorer so far in this year's championship. He has 48 points, meaning Smith is two shy of becoming the fifth different England player to notch up 50 points in an edition of the Six Nations (Jonny Wilkinson 7 times, Toby Flood once, Owen Farrell 6 times, George Ford once).

Ireland's Doris has been a 'nuisance' (slowing the opposition ball) at more rucks (7) than any other player in this year's tournament, Opta data shows.

Josh Navidi has been passed fit to start his first Test for almost a year when Wales face leaders France in the Six Nations on Friday.

Navidi last played for his country against Les Bleus in the 2021 Six Nations, but will start at open-side flanker at the Principality Stadium after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Seb Davies comes in at blindside flanker, as Ross Moriarty and Taine Basham drop out of the side following a defeat to England at Twickenham that leaves the holders in fifth place.

Prop Gareth Thomas and centre Jonathan Davies also get the nod for the round-four showdown in Cardiff.

Tomas Francis and Josh Adams have been given the green light to start after coming through the return to play protocols.

Nick Tompkins will not feature after suffering a concussion in Saracens' win over Leicester Tigers last weekend. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit returns, but will be among the replacements.

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: "Josh is a fantastic player and has played well for us in the past.

"He’s come back before straight back into the side so having 80 minutes under his belt for Cardiff we think that’s enough for him and we look forward to him being back out there bringing that experience.

"He’s a very good player and has played at this level on many occasions so that’s going to be great for us.

"Seb at six just gives us a little bit more size. It helps the lineout, but also in the wider channels where he often runs he’s got the skill set to trouble a few defenders out wide.

"I think Gareth made a really big impact for us last week as did a number of players and so he gets to start."

 

Wales team: Liam Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Owen Watkin, Jonathan Davies, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar (captain), Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Josh Navidi, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Dewi Lake, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ross Moriarty, Jac Morgan, Kieran Hardy, Gareth Anscombe, Louis Rees-Zammit.

France head coach Fabien Galthie has been forced into one change for Friday's Six Nations clash with Wales and fears others may yet be ruled out with coronavirus.

Les Blues lead the way at the top of the standings with three wins from three ahead of their trip to the Principality Stadium to face a struggling Wales side.

However, the visitors will be without wing Damian Penaud and second row Romain Taofifenua after both players tested positive for COVID-19.

Losing Penaud is a big blow for Galthie as the 25-year-old has beaten 10 defenders in this year's tournament, the joint-most of any player alongside Scotland's Darcy Graham.

Indeed, Penaud has faced just 13 tackles in total across France's three matches, with his tackle evasion rate of 77 per cent the best of any player.

Yoram Moefana will switch to the right wing in the absence of Penaud, who started the 36-17 win over Scotland last time out, with Gabin Villiere drafted into the side on the left.

After losing Penaud and Taofifenua, Galthie is now awaiting the results of further PCR tests ahead of making the trip to the Welsh capital.

"We were notified this morning that they were positive so we had to make last-minute changes," Galthie told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We are preparing for other changes. We have no additional information yet, but we need to know by Thursday [if more changes will be made]."

In more positive news for France, captain and reigning world player of the year Antoine Dupont has recovered from a knock sustained in training to make the starting XV.

Les Blues have won their last six Test matches, making this their best run of form since 2006, and have won their last two Six Nations meetings with Wales.

France's 27-23 victory on their last trip to Cardiff in 2020 was their first Six Nations victory in the Welsh capital since 2010, which was also the last time they won the tournament.

 

France team: Melvyn Jaminet, Yoram Moefana, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (c); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Mohamed Haouas, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos, Matthis Lebel.

Poland have been awarded a bye through to the World Cup qualifying play-off final following the postponement of their clash with Russia.

FIFA confirmed the news on Tuesday, though Russia have indicated that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ban on its national teams from competing.

Should the decision be upheld, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

That 'Path B' final will be held at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow on March 29.

FIFA's decision comes on the back of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic announcing last week they would each refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday 24 following weeks of rising political tensions in the region, with more than two million citizens fleeing the country.

Meanwhile, FIFA has also confirmed that Ukraine's 'Path A' semi-final with Scotland at Hampden Park, scheduled for March 24, will now take place in June.

Ukraine requested that the game be pushed back due to "the impossibility of organising both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances".

The other semi-final in that side of the draw, the clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff on the same day, will go ahead as planned.

However, the final will be postponed until after the Scotland and Ukraine game is played.

Ben Youngs said the "magnitude" of becoming England's most-capped men's player has yet to sink in, after the 32-year-old surpassed Jason Leonard by making his 115th international appearance in the Six Nations win over Wales.

Youngs came on from the bench during England's 23-19 win over the Six Nations holders at Twickenham, as Eddie Jones' side survived a second-half Wales comeback to follow up their 33-0 thrashing of Italy with another crucial win.

Leicester scrum-half Youngs, who made his senior international debut against Scotland in March 2010, said he needed time to reflect upon his accomplishment.

"I've tried to convince myself that today and tomorrow I will sit back and try and absorb it all," he said.

"I don't think the magnitude of what's happened has sunk in."

Harry Randall was England's starting scrum-half for the contest, but Youngs said he had no qualms with playing a supporting role to the 24-year-old in his own veteran years.

"Right now I'm getting a huge amount of joy in helping this young team," Youngs added. "While Eddie still thinks I have value and I feel I have value, it seems all right.

"Now I can reflect on that moment and to have the family witness it as well, it was a fabulous occasion."

 

115 - Ben Youngs has won his 115th cap for @EnglandRugby - and his 50th in the #GuinnessSixNations - making him the most capped player for the England men's team; only Rocky Clark, Sarah Hunter and Katy Daley-Mclean have won more for England overall. Roses. pic.twitter.com/3ZHGElKDrT

— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 26, 2022

England punished an error-strewn Wales performance to win 23-19 at Twickenham and remain France's nearest challengers in the 2022 Six Nations.

The Red Rose had responded to their opening defeat to Scotland with a routine victory over Italy but would have expected a greater test against the defending champions on Saturday.

Instead, England controlled much of the proceedings, with Wales initially impressing only in limiting their scoring.

Marcus Smith's penalty kicking ensured the home side were comfortable early on, though, and an Alex Dombrandt try early in the second period meant an attempted Wales comeback – led by scores from Josh Adams, Nick Tompkins and Kieran Hardy – fell just short.

There was precious little quality in a first half that England dominated, with their 12 points all coming from the boot of Smith.

England's best chance of a try saw them halted in front of the line before Charlie Ewels was penalised for a knock-on, although the TMO spotted Liam Williams had dislodged the ball, earning a yellow card.

Williams headed for the sin bin, yet England added only three points to their total through Smith's latest penalty in his time off the pitch.

The breakthrough try was suitably scruffy in the 43rd minute when Ryan Elias' lineout cleared all of his team-mates and allowed Dombrandt to steal in and score.

Wales' response was rather more impressive, with Adams found free on the left for one try before Tompkins exploited a gap for another, cutting the lead from 17 points to five.

England introduced Ben Youngs for a record-breaking 115th cap as they sought to stem the tide, although it was a further pair of fine Smith kicks that really eased the nerves.

A quick restart from Hardy to score with seconds remaining gave England one last attack to see out with the match on the line, but Eddie Jones' men held on.

Another slow Welsh start

A worrying trend of this Wales campaign has been their poor first-half showings. This was the second of three matches in which they have failed to score a point before the break.

Struggling prior to half-time is nothing new in this fixture, though. They have not led at the interval in any of their 12 Six Nations matches at Twickenham and are the only side with that miserable record.

Smith's boot the standout

Smith finished with 18 points, matching his previous Test best against Canada last July. On that occasion, however, his points came courtesy of nine conversions in a one-sided triumph; this time, with six penalties, his contribution was far more decisive.

The England fly-half also now leads the charts for points in this championship, 12 ahead of Melvyn Jaminet, with whom he had been tied heading into Saturday.

What's next?

Ireland will have the opportunity to nudge ahead of England when they host Italy on Sunday, but they are then the next visitors to Twickenham. Wales must attempt to halt France's Grand Slam charge in Cardiff.

Ex-England star Jason Leonard has congratulated Ben Youngs as he gets set to become the nation's most-capped player in men's international rugby ahead in their Six Nations clash with Wales.

The scrum-half will start from the bench for Eddie Jones' side at Twickenham, with Harry Randall favoured in the initial XV, but will win his 115th cap for his country when he enters the fray.

That will take him past former World Cup winner Leonard, with whom he jointly sits on 114 caps at the top of the leaderboard.

The former Harlequins favourite took to social media ahead of the match to pay tribute to Youngs' achievement.

"All the best Ben Youngs," the former prop wrote on Twitter. "I know Twickenham will raise the roof for your 115th cap, as I will be one of them!

"I couldn't want for a better individual to pass the record [to] as you are an absolute credit to the game. [It's been] an absolute honour to have held the record for so long."

Youngs will remain shy of Leonard's total international cap record for a few more games at least, however, given that the latter has played more games for the British and Irish Lions.

Both remain well shy of Wales stalwart Alun Wyn Jones' all-time men's record, with the lock having picked up 161 caps to date - 149 for Wales and a dozen for the Lions.

Dan Biggar says he will not have to plan his pre-match speech when Wales face England in the Six Nations, adding that the emotion should prove enough for his side.

The Northampton fly-half will skipper Wayne Pivac's side at Twickenham as they look to give their Championship hopes a shot in the arm.

Wales have not won at the home of English rugby since 2015, having lost on their last five visits – and Biggar admits that his side should need no motivation to deliver.

"Sometimes very little is needed to be said," he stated. "It's very much down to the individual.

"I'd like to think that in a pivotal weekend in the Six Nations against England at Twickenham there won't be too much needed [to be] said from an emotional level to get us going.

"At some point you have to roll your sleeves up. Do we want to be enjoying a beer after putting everything in and enjoying the result?

"Or do we want to feel that we haven't given it our all and are really quite disappointed with how we played and let the country down?"

Biggar admitted that Wales need to ensure they make a sharp start, having historically sunk to defeat against England after falling behind early on.

"We need to make sure that when we go away to tough places, like the Aviva, like Twickenham, we start well," he added. "It's important we don't give them a start.

"It's such a difficult task. Even if you get yourself back in the game, one more score for England takes you out. They've got some serious strength in depth and they're a very good side."

Scotland denied France glory in last year's Six Nations, with their dramatic victory in Paris meaning Les Bleus missed out on the title.

Now, France will be out for vengeance as they head to Edinburgh at the top of the standings with two victories from their opening two matches.

England, meanwhile, bounced back from their defeat to Scotland in round one with a hammering of Italy, and Eddie Jones' second-placed team host Wales at Twickenham. 

Wales lost convincingly to Ireland in their first game, yet defeated Scotland 20-17 last time out, though the defending champions are down in fifth place as it stands.

The final match of the weekend sees Ireland take on Italy in Dublin. The Azzurri are staring down the barrel of a 100th Six Nations defeat.

Ahead of the third round of fixtures, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.

SCOTLAND V FRANCE

FORM

Scotland have won four of their last six games against France in the Championship, including the last two in a row and a first win in Paris since 1999. They have not won three in a row against Les Bleus in the tournament since 1956-1958.

This will be the 99th meeting between Scotland and France in all competitions, with Les Bleus leading the head to head with 56 wins (L39, D3). However, honours are even across the last 10 clashes, with both sides picking up five wins each.

France opened their campaign with a pair of wins, something they also managed in 2021. The only time since 2011 when they have won their opening three games was in 2020, when they missed out on the title and a Grand Slam after a fourth-round defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Darcy Graham has beaten a Championship-high nine defenders so far. He is just ahead of French duo Gabin Villiere, Damian Penaud, and Marcus Smith.

France's Gregory Alldritt has made more carries (30) than any other player, while he has also gained 83 post-contact metres, the most of any forward and fourth most of any player, after Ireland's Mack Hansen (107), Scotland's Graham (86) and team-mate Penaud (84), as well as hitting 10 more defensive rucks (36) than anyone else.

ENGLAND V WALES

FORM

The last four Six Nations matches between these sides have been won by the home side on the day. Indeed, England have won their last four home games against Wales in the Championship, only once since 1930 have they enjoyed a longer such streak, a nine-game run between 1990 and 2006.

England have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the Six Nations (W21, D1), defeats to Ireland in 2018 and Scotland in 2021. Wales' last win at Twickenham in the Championship was in 2012. Since the start of the 2016 tournament, Wales have picked up just one away victory outside of Scotland or Italy, a 24-19 win in Paris in 2019.

England (49) and Wales (34) have made more maul metres than any other sides so far in this edition of the Six Nations.

ONES TO WATCH

Jones has named Ben Youngs on England's bench. If he comes on, Youngs will win his 115th Test cap, overtaking Jason Leonard as the country's most capped men's player. The scrum-half has been involved in five tries in his last six starts against Wales (three tries, two assists).

Alex Cuthbert is set to play for Wales for a 50th time.  He is looking to score his first try in the Six Nations since crossing against Italy in 2014.

 

IRELAND V ITALY

FORM

Ireland have won 21 of their 22 previous Six Nations matches against Italy, their sole defeat coming in 2013 (15-22), in what was the Azzurri's last home victory in the Championship.

Italy's next defeat will be their 100th in the Championship, they are currently on a record 34 match losing run, almost seven years since last claiming a victory (22-19 v Scotland, 28 Feb 2015).

Ireland hold a 100 per cent win rate against Italy at home in the Six Nations (W11), with the Azzurri the only side that has never won at the Aviva Stadium or Croke Park. Indeed, Ireland have scored 50 or more points in each of their last three home games against the tournament's whipping boys.

ONES TO WATCH

Hansen, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki are three of just six players to both score and assist a try, the trio all scoring once and assisting one try after two rounds.

Italy's Federico Ruzza has won more lineouts (16) than any other player, including one steal, and team-mate Michele Lamaro has made the most tackles (41) in the tournament.

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